What if a burglar breaks into a rented home, steals all the stuff there and damages the property? Can the tenant immediately break the lease? Should the tenant pay for all the damages? And what should the landlord do in this case?
Everything depends on the details of the robbery: how the burglar entered the property, what damage was caused, maybe there were some additional circumstances before the accident…
Breaking the lease is a one-sided rejection of obligations, it is a very serious step which should be approved by the landlord and everything should be taken into account!
The landlord may allow to break the lease only if they didn’t take security measures. For example, the front door’s lock didn’t work properly, the window on the first floor was broken, the alarm system was damaged, etc. Remember, it is always the responsibility of the landlord to do all the repairs in the property, so if you failed to provide a secure home for your tenants, you have to break the lease if they ask to.
There are some other circumstances that may indicate the landlord’s partial fault in the accident. For example, the landlord didn’t change the locks after previous tenants moved out, or the tenant lost their keys, informed their landlord about it, and the landlord forgot to change the locks or neglected it. In all these situations the lease may be broken.
Moreover, the tenant may even argue that the landlord should have to pay for all the things that were stolen. For that reason, it’s better to keep all the information in one safe place, and in case you’re evicted, you’ll have the evidence that proves who’s right.
Tenants themselves may be guilty in the robbery as well, and landlords are not responsible for their actions. For example, the tenant forgot to lock the door, left it wide open or didn’t turn the alarm system on. Or the tenant lost the key and forgot to inform the landlord about it, or just gave the key to a friend. In such cases landlords are not responsible for the robbery, and therefore tenant has no grounds to break the lease.
In case it was a forced entry, and all the doors and windows were locked, the lease cannot be broken until the responsible party is revealed. If neither tenant nor landlord is responsible for the robbery, there’s absolutely no grounds to break the lease. However, if a front door or a window was broken or any other damage was caused, the landlord should repair it as soon as possible, as it’s their duty to provide tenants with a secure place to live. Unless the landlord does it, the tenant automatically has all the grounds to break the lease as the landlord doesn’t cope with their duties.
As a general rule, the tenant’s insurance covers all tenant’s possessions which were stolen. But what about damage to the property itself? This depends on the following:
The lease. It may spell out what happens in this situation. Sometimes, the lease may include terms that seek to impose the damage obligations on the tenant.
The landlord's insurance policy. If there is such, it may provide coverage for all the damages to the building.
The landlord’s own actions. If the landlord’s partial fault was proved (the lock wasn’t locked, the door wasn’t fixed, etc), the landlord will possibly have to cover the damages.
The tenant's own actions. If the tenant fails to notify the landlord about what happened, or provide a copy of the police report to the lease, they may have to pay for damages that their landlord was never aware of.
Maybe you had a similar experience with a robbery? Which were you, landlord or tenant? How did you manage this situation?